GJM demands three-tier panchayat in Darjeeling Hills

The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha demanded the introduction of the three-tier Panchayati Raj system in Darjeeling.

Kolkata: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha on Thursday demanded that the three-tier Panchayati Raj system be introduced in the Darjeeling Hills for access to funds for development, with the West Bengal government conveying that it required amendment to the Constitution.

"We need introduction of Panchayati Raj system in the Darjeeling Hills as per provisions in the MoA with the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration to access maximum possible funds under various development projects for the people," GJM general secretary and GTA Sabha executive member Roshan Giri told reporters here after a tripartite agreement.

"However, it needs some amendment in the Constitution and we have been told by the Central team that the Attorney General will review our demand," Giri said.

Home Secretary Basudeb Banerjee said the demand for a three-tier Panchayati Raj
system has been taken up by the Union Rural Development Ministry.

Banerjee said the GTA has already received Rs 165 crore of Rs 200 crore central funds promised earlier.

A team from industry bodies CII and ASSOCHAM would review GTA`s demand for special subsidy for investment in the Darjeeling Hills, he said.

"Now development work will be expedited with the funds for the benefit of people in the hills," he said.

The GJM also demanded Backward Region Grant Funds and extra facilities, special grants and incentives for investment, besides waiver on taxes on the lines of the North Eastern Council, he said.

Giri said that the GJM wanted reserve forest areas of Darjeeling to be transferred to the GTA.

He said a central team comprising officials of the Union Home Ministry and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests would soon visit the Hills to review this demand.

The GJM leader also raised the issue of release of party members jailed following the agitation in the hills and withdrawal of all cases against them.

"We want all cases against them be withdrawn and they should be released from prison. The state government has assured us of expediting the matter," Giri said.

The GJM delegation, which met Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee after the tripartite meeting, also demanded recruitment of Gorkha youths in the Army and paramilitary forces, he said.

The demand has been placed for an alternative national highway in Darjeeling. A sainik school would also come up.

In the education sector, Giri said the GTA has identified land to set up a central university and a National Institute of Technology, with the Centre to look into the matter of clearance for them.

He said Rs 553 crore has been sought from the state government for the construction of an administrative building for the GTA and allied infrastructure, for which estimates have been submitted.

The central government was represented by additional secretary of Union Ministry of Home Affairs K Skandan and director of Centre-State Relations under MHA Ashutosh Jain, while the state was represented by Chief Secretary Sanjay Mitra, Home Secretary Basudeb Banerjee and senior officials.

While the last tripartite meeting was held on June 3, 2013, the next would be held in the last week of January 2014.

A bilateral meeting between the GJM and the state government took place here yesterday.